Introducing Jacob – Part Two

29 07 2003

By the time of Jacob’s soccer drama, he had two siblings. Grace arrived when Jacob was two, and Luke came along two years later. They were both easy going and content. It was a good thing, too, because I still had my hands full with their brother. I suppose they were happy partly because they were free to sit back and watch the all-Jacob channel from morning to night: Jacob devising some naughty scheme. Mommy chasing Jacob. Jacob creating disaster. Mommy cleaning up Jacob’s messes. Never a dull moment. Grace and Luke learned proper behavior by example. Watching Jacob taught them all the things they should NOT do.

Recognizing Jacob’s intelligence and wanting to provide the best environment for his growth, we decided to enroll him in a private kindergarten. It would be a stretch to our budget, but we valued education, and we also knew Jacob would need a God-fearing, patient teacher. He ended up in a class of twelve or so kids, and two of them were already his friends. The teacher was perfect. It was a good year.

The following summer George took a teaching position at a university in Virginia. We looked into school opportunities and were assured by neighbors that the local public school had a great reputation. We really couldn’t afford private school, so we decided to give it a try.

It was horrible. The teacher was an elderly woman who planned to retire in December. Her teaching method consisted primarily of handing out a work sheet, reading the instructions, and letting them finish. If any of the students failed to grasp the concepts, she used the same worksheet the next day. Not only was this a mind-numbing technique, the lessons covered material Jacob had learned in kindergarten. He was bored out of his mind. And that’s dangerous with a kid who’s a little out of his mind already. He started coming home frustrated saying that he hated school. I thought, “Oh great! He’s only in first grade and he hates it. We’re in for years of fun!”

Then there were the other children. One day Jacob came home and proudly showed me something he had learned. Not from his teacher, but from one of the boys in his class. He demonstrated a hand symbol that made me slap my hand over my mouth, and he said, “That means ‘loves a lot.'”

I said, “No, Jacob. That’s not what that means. And you must never do that again, because it’s very nasty. People will be offended and upset if they see you make that hand sign.”

He looked so confused. And I felt sad. This public school thing wasn’t working out. I started looking into home school, attended some meetings with a local group, and decided that was the best option available to us. For the next three years the kids were taught at home. It was an awesome time. They got along so well, played together, and their imaginations took flight. Our schooling lasted only a couple hours a day. Then they went outside and became explorers or built cities out of blocks and legos. By design we didn’t own a television. And we kept them surrounded by books.

But when Jacob was in fourth grade, he began to have attitude problems. I would tell him to read a certain story and write a report on some aspect of it. He would answer, “Does Grace have to do it?”

“No, Jacob. Grace is in second grade. She has to do her own work.”

“I don’t think it’s fair. If Grace doesn’t have to write it, I don’t want to.”

He started slacking off on his spelling. When I’d test him on Fridays, he’d miss maybe three of the twenty words, but I knew he could spell them correctly if he gave it half an effort. I’d ask him why he missed them, and he’d say, “What difference does it make?”

Time to re-evaluate. That summer a friend who was involved in administration at the university decided to open a new school. He’d been examining the classical Christian school movement and felt convinced it was the ideal model for advanced academics. He called and asked if I’d be interested in teaching.

It seemed like the perfect timing. Luke was old enough to start first grade, so all three kids could enter the school with me. Jacob would have the competition he needed to make school worth his while. We went for it. I taught third grade and Latin. Grace was in my class, and Jacob entered fifth grade.

By this point, Jacob was developing the individuality that would characterize him. He had his own style in everything. Clothes, music, drawing. He began sketching some pretty bizarre creatures. He took up skate-boarding. Jacob started to become the paradox that would endear him to so many people. By the time he was a teenager, he felt right at home in his church youth group and equally at home on the streets.

The summer before Jacob entered sixth grade we moved back to East Texas to be closer to relatives. George accepted a position at another university. I took a job teaching junior high English and history at a Christian school, and the kids were all enrolled there. Jacob fell into his groove. He was an independent kid. But he was also an interesting combination of adventure and fear. He never lost his perfectionistic streak and hated any kind of failure. Or, I should say, failure in his own eyes. He had his own priorities. And one of them wasn’t Spanish.

One day his teacher approached me, concern in her face. “We had a test today,” she began, “and, well, this is what Jacob wrote.” She handed me his test.

Before I could stop myself, I laughed out loud. A column of English words, each naming a vegetable, filled the left side of the page. The students were supposed to write the Spanish name for the vegetable next to the English. Jacob had answered them all. Onion became el oniono . . . carrot, el carroto, etc. Hmmm. I guessed Spanish vegetables didn’t rank too high on Jacob’s list. I felt bad I had laughed, and the teacher looked bemused. “I’ll talk to him,” I said, trying to match her concern in my voice and expression. “This won’t happen again.”

And it didn’t. Ah, the beauty of having Mom right on hand!

Fashion. Or lack thereof. Jacob had a favorite clothing brand: “Good Will.” He’d come home with the most hideous garments, gleefully announcing, “This only cost me fifty cents.”

“For obvious reasons,” I’d say. But there was no deterring him. The school they attended required uniforms, but on Fridays, students had free dress. Most of the kids used that opportunity to pull out their Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, Gap attire. Jacob would show up in something like converse sneakers, baggy burgundy corduroys, a long-sleeved pale blue t-shirt, with a bright yellow short-sleeved t-shirt over it. The yellow one had a 60’s-looking illustration of mushrooms on it. And the amazing thing was, Jacob looked cool. The students who decked head-to-toe in designer apparel seemed stiff and plastic next to him. He looked real. Secretly I admired him for it.

In junior high, Jacob’s creativity seemed on the verge of explosion. He picked up the guitar, began writing serious poetry, and thought deeply about life. He had a razor sharp wit and quick mind. But he was also extremely goofy. When he got together with his friend Paul, I’d be laughing so hard, tears streamed down my face. This posed a bit of a problem when it happened while I was driving them somewhere. I had trouble keeping my focus on the road.

Sometimes I feared for Jacob. He had developed friendships with some guys who were connected with a gang. I wasn’t worried that Jacob would get involved with drugs or illegal activity. I knew his heart. But his association with those kids placed him in dangerous situations. Jacob invited them to church, spent time at their houses, honestly cared about them. How could I discourage behavior that I knew was ministry? We talked often about how to reach out to people without placing oneself in harm’s way unnecessarily. Parenthood keeps you on your knees.

Jacob was growing in every way. I marveled at the approach of manhood, and I rejoiced to see his faith taking root. Like a well-watered plant, he began to bear fruit that demonstrated the reality at work in his soul. Since before any of my kids were born, I had prayed they’d find their way into Truth. Watching his faith blossom thrilled me to the core. And I looked forward with joy and anticipation to what would unfold in his life. Never would I have imagined or chosen what was to be.

To be continued . . . again.


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3 responses

30 07 2003
cmortmain

You are such a wonderful writer.

It is a joy to read what you write.

30 07 2003
jeannedamoff

Re: You are such a wonderful writer.

Knowing how much you read, I’m humbled and encouraged by your compliments! Thank you for reading . . . I know these entries are long. But how do you condense a person into a few paragraphs? I’ve never been good at making the long story short.

I truly appreciate your praise. EZ

30 07 2003
cmortmain

Long?

Not long enough.

These essays about Jacob are my favorites of yours thus far, and that’s saying a great deal.

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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